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The Great Co-opter
November 19, 2002
By Richard Prasad

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A lot has been made about the Democrats lack of a cohesive message lately. While it is true that the Democrats didn't have a clear message of vision for November's midterm, it is also true that many of the potential issues that Democrats could have used against President Bush were co-opted by Bush and presidential guru Karl Rove.

Early on in the administration, so early now that people have forgotten, Bush signed the Education Bill co-sponsored by none other than Ted Kennedy. Unlike traditional conservatives, like Newt Gingrich, Bush did not want to destroy the Department of Education, he did not even fight for vouchers in the education bill. Bush shrewdly understood that the same court that handed him the Presidency, would also rule favorably on vouchers, and so they did. Democrats could no longer say that Republicans were anti-education.

Another issue that Bush took away from the Democrats was campaign finance reform. All throughout the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush ran against campaign finance reform, and used the big monied interests in the Republican part to club John McCain into submission in the Republican primaries. But when the vote came and Bush saw that the majority of people were for campaign finance reform, he did a flip flop and signed the bill. Once again, Bush's fondest hope is that the Rehnquist led court will find McCain-Feingold unconstitutional.

Sometimes the Democrats used Bush's unwillingness for confrontation to their advantage. For example in the airport security legislation, Republicans were initially against federalizing security workers, but in the end the Democrats prevailed because private companies had screwed up airport security so badly that Republicans could not reasonably argue that privatization of airport security was the best alternative. Still, the Democrats no longer had an issue to run on in airport security.

To placate the farmers in the so called red states, Bush signed the Farm Bill. Gone were the traditional republican concern for fiscal responsibility and deficit spending. If they were ever Republican concerns. Lest the reader forget, Reagan ran the biggest deficits in history, and the public seemed happily oblivious. His prodigy, Bush Jr., seems to be following in Reagan's footsteps. And the country seems equally oblivious.

Even on the war in Iraq, Bush co-opted what was essentially the Democratic position on the war. Early on, it seemed like Bush favored the go it alone, unilateral cowboy approach that had been a feature of his foreign policy. But then, he shunned the hard-line Cheney-Rumsfeld approach, and went to the UN, offered a resolution, and after two months of fits and starts, the resolution passed 15-0. Bush emerged a multilateralist, even if he doesn't believe in multilateralism in his heart, and the Democrats lost yet another issue.

Does Bush's strategy absolve the Democrats from not fighting against certain Bush policies harder than they did? HELL NO! One example is the tax cut. >From day one, Democrats should have been screaming from every corner that this was a tax cut primarily for the wealthy, proposed repealing such tax breaks such as the inheritance tax and the top rate cut and propose a smaller tax cut targeted towards the middle class, like a cut in the payroll tax, or expanding the earned income tax credit. The cries of "class warfare" would be heard from Republican circles, but the Democrats would be on the right side of the tax issue, and the battle would be joined.

Middle class tax cuts would be good economic policy as well, since the middle class is larger than the wealthy, putting money in our pockets would truly spur economic activity and result in sustained growth.

The Democrats should have also hit Bush harder on corporate responsibility and Enron. Enron manipulated prices is California and FERC did nothing to stop it. And yet the Democrats were silent on this. People understand price gouging when they see it. Democrats should have positioned themselves as the champions of the little guy, fighting Republican special interest like big oil and energy companies. Democrats silence on Enron will forever puzzle me.

Part of the answer may be Terry McAuliffe, the ubiquitous money raising friend of Bill Clinton, and head of the DNC. A party can't fight corporate corruption and go begging the same corporate honchos for money. The Democrats need to cut their ties to corporate whores like Terry McAuliffe, and return to their roots, fighting for the middle class.

The rest of the answer is that Bush again co-opted a Democratic issue by signing the Sarbanes corporate responsibility bill, again stealing the Democrats thunder, and leaving them issueless.

There is still a chance for Democrats. Here is what I propose. When Republicans propose making the President's tax cut permanent, Democrats should fight it tooth and nail. Second, fire Terry McAuliffe, and install someone in the DNC that will appeal to grass roots working class people. Third, fight Bush on corporate responsibility. Point out that Harvey Pitt and William Webster will not engender faith in the investing public, and until that faith is restored, the stock market will not return to its 1990's glory. And fourth, point out that the war in Afghanistan is not working and requires a patient long term approach and not the cut and run policy favored by the Bushies.

Keep hope alive Democrats, don't allow yourselves to be co-opted and marginalized by the likes of Bush and Rove, whose only interest is getting re-elected.

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